A new approach to democracy — Americans Elect 2012

Occupiers, Tea Party members, actually most Americans feel that somehow our democracy is not working. The ultimate goals that each of us want certainly differ. It’s difficult to quantify where the American people stand on particular issues, and who are public officials who can truly represent their interests.

The adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it” certainly does not apply to our current political system. We desperately need to try to reform our system. Any change runs the risk of the law of unintended consequences.

There is at least one group that is doing more than talking about electoral reform; they are implementing it. The organization Americans Elect is proposing a new way for us to elect or national leaders.

The organization describes itself as “a second process, not a third party. It is a brand new way all voters can participate in selecting a presidential ticket to be placed on the November 2012 ballot in 50 states.”

Based on direct democracy and citizen power, Americans Elect is an on-line venue for individuals to express their views on a variety of domestic and international issues and to look for candidates who best represent their views. In January, 2012, five months before the June nominating “convention,” there are already 2,370,000 citizens who have joined the ranks. Not beholden to the archaic party rules that dictate procedure in caucuses and primaries, Americans Elect will truly be a direct democracy. An individual can be at his or her keyboard and select who he or she wants to be the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, and then it is recorded at a central processing station with the returns based on the clear logic of one person – one vote.

The idea of on-line voting may send chills ups and down the spines of certain individual who feel that hackers may be able to corrupt the system and manipulate the returns. The leaders of Americans Elect have two responses to this concern.

First, the current system can easily be manipulated. Whether it’s the famous butterfly ballot in Florida in 2000 or the cumbersome processes for interested candidates to get on the ballot in a number of states or the demand by others that everyone have a photo ID whether or not they have easy access to getting one, democracy is foiled in numerous ways.

Second, as stated in their brochure,

Just as Amazon and Facebook have changed the way we shop and socialize, AE is changing how we nominate our President and Vice-President.

The same technology protecting billions of dollars in transaction every day will protect millions of votes.

AE is building a secure online convention. Every voter’s registration status will be verified with state voter files. Every vote will be counted fairly and accurately, and will generate a printable confirmation. An independent panel of election experts will verify the results.

All candidates will be verified and vetted. All candidates will be verified as constitutionally eligible to run. All candidates will pass a standard vetting process including background checks. An independent, nonpartisan committee will certify all finalist candidates.

The greatest mistake that we as Americans could make is to expect the Americans Elect process to work flawlessly. Much as we want to think that “we play fairly; the other people cheat,” the bottom line is that it’s endemic in the American character, in fact in human nature, for people to be tempted to bend the rules in their favor.

Even if the process made significant progress in raising the integrity of our election returns (and that’s setting the bar pretty low), no one has any guarantee that those participating in Americans Elect will select as candidates individuals whose views are compatible with their own. The organization is scrupulously non-partisan, focusing entirely on process. It favors no positions on any issues. It is only vested in seeing that as many sides as possible are part of the on-line dialogue.

Progressives would probably be among the first to endorse and embrace direct democracy. However, we run the risk of the “be careful for what you wish because you might get it” syndrome. On balance, do Americans favor a foreign policy that is hesitant to get involved in discretionary wars? Do Americans truly embrace universal health insurance? Do they agree with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that taxes as the price that we pay for a civilized society?

Even if the majority of Americans held progressive views, as has been somewhat persuasively argued by some, there is still the risk of legally “stuffing the ballot box.” Americans Elect is open to any qualified voter. In its literature it encourages grass-roots organizing the get as many Americans participating as possible.

How is that different from American Idol encouraging as many viewers as possible to vote for contestants? There are organized efforts to sabotage some candidates and to promote others. If America were a true democracy, it’s possible that we would not have initiated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the democracy envisioned by Americans Elect could still have an outcome where the “military industrial complex” would constantly keep us at war.

It’s next to impossible that in November America will elect the presidential candidate selected by Americans Elect voters. We can afford to take a risk. The present system of place political power in the hands of vested interests does not work. We are so resistant to change that not even a reasonable president will utilize any political capital in abolishing the Electoral College.

Americans Elect would be both in the beginning and as time goes along a work in progress. Its ultimate efficacy would rest with voters; voters operating under somewhat different rules than today. Are we willing to give it a try?